A Tale of the Tell

Poker players say that everyone has a tell; something or some movement that they instinctively do when confronted with a good a hand, a bad hand, or a bluff. Poker players don sunglasses, hats, tape their hands to their sides, I even saw an ad for a poker helmet.  It looked like a biker’s crash helmet that guaranteed to hide all your tells. There’s a website, www.Poker Tells.com, that helps new poker players learn how to spot these behaviors. The website defines a poker tell as:

“Any behavioral pattern that a player exhibits which can tip you off to what they hold.”

Poker players go out of their way to make sure these uncontrollable slips in truth don’t come through. 


Because if you saw a poker player scratch his nose every time he had an unbeatable hand you’d fold.
If you saw that same poker player cluck his tongue when he was bluffing you’d call the bluff.

People are the same way.

When I was a little girl my mom always knew when something was bothering me. I would twirl strands of my hair around my finger. Over and over and over again these strands of hair would flip around my index finger until I got whatever was bothering me figured out in my head or my momma would ask me, “what’s bothering you?”
My husband sucks in his lower lip and his top lip goes paper white when he’s angry.
One of my brothers says “Not a problem.” When he’s doesn’t know the answer. He also ends a lie with the phrase, “I believe.”
My oldest son folds his hands in his lap and rubs his thumb when he is disappointed or his feelings have been hurt.
My middle son scrunches up his eyebrows when he feels left out.
My youngest son cocks his head and grins a thirty-two-tooth grin when he’s been caught doing something he shouldn’t.
These are all tells and in my current Work In Progress I use a handful of these tells to breathe three dimensionality into my characters. The characters become believable to the reader and even better they become signs to my reader when a character is lying, hurt or done something they shouldn’t. Tells let you experience the character without being told what they are feeling or what they are hiding.

So I ask you:

What tells are you using in your Work In Progress?
Are tells part of your character worksheet?

If you aren’t using tells look around; start observing those closest to you and make a list of their tells.
Your characters will thank you.
Your editors/agents/critique partners will thank you.
Your reader will thank you!
Trust me.
A male can only run a frustrated hand through his hair so many times. And there’s a physical limit to how many times a female can bite down on her lip without causing a deformity.

Now go study your tells.

2 Comments on “A Tale of the Tell”

  1. I bite down on my lower lip…When we were lttle, my little brother would say…"MOM! mark's biting his lip! come quick or he's gonna beat me up!"

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *